More on Churchill

By on February 8, 2005

In the midst of the rage over Ward Churchill’s deranged ravings, and as news emerges that Churchill has lied about his Native American heritage and may have committed academic fraud, one question keeps coming up: How did this man get a job? As Glenn Reynolds noted this morning, “At my institution, we don’t hire people without reading their publications. We don’t tenure people without reading them and sending them for outside review by leading scholars in the field.”

The obvious (and easily discovered) problems with Churchill’s identity and scholarship raise a disturbing possibility (some would say a probability): Churchill’s scholarship was far less important to the University of Colorado than his ideology. A quick look at the ideological “balance” of Colorado’s faculty shows that the university essentially defines the word “biased.” Democrats outnumber Republicans in the social science and humanities departments by a ratio of greater than 32 to 1.

This imbalance brings to mind George Will’s recent application of Cass Sunstein’s “law of group polarization” to the ideological diversity debate. According to this principle (as explained in the article by Mark Bauerlein), “[w]hen like-minded people deliberate as an organized group, the general opinion shifts toward extreme versions of their common beliefs.” As a practical matter, when opinions become increasingly extreme, scholarship, competence, and truth become less important than advancing the dominant ideology.

At FIRE, we have long argued that viewpoint discrimination has negative real-world consequences (and make no mistake, you do not achieve 32-to-1 ideological imbalances without years of viewpoint discrimination in hiring, promotion, and retention). For those of you who continue to doubt this truth—for those who believe that such viewpoint discrimination is an essentially harmless application of departmental academic freedom—I present to you Mr. Ward Churchill, Exhibit A for the consequences of substituting ideology for competence.

Schools: University of Colorado at Boulder